Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Hughes the new Joba? Huh?

You can count me as one of those who loves what he sees with Hughes' emergence in the Yanks bullpen. He can handle two big innings, throws heat, gets the ball to either Bruney or Mo.

Sure, he's a starter toiling in the bullpen right now, but given the depth of their rotation (especially with Wang making some improvements), I think Hughes should remain here at least until Joba hits his inning limits.

Not by coincidence, Hughes' velocity has seen a jump since he moved to the bullpen, even though this wasn't the original plan. Of course Hughes would prefer to stick in the big leagues -- the pay, travel, everything is better; no one grows up dreaming of pitching in Triple-A -- but even though relieving isn't his first choice, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have been impressed by his open mind.

Let's not forget that Hughes isn't far removed from being touted as a top prospect, so we shouldn't be completely stunned that he's finding success. But, looking to cut off another Joba Chamberlain debate at the pass, the Yankees are making sure people know Hughes really is a starter masquerading as a reliever.
Joba should be a starter. For good. I also understand that the Yanks will try to cap his innings around the 150-175 mark. In other words, Joba's pitched almost half his season already, having thrown 75.2 innings thus far this year, making 14 starts. So when Joba gets closer to 150 innings, I could see Hughes and Joba possibly swapping roles, allowing them to remain effective and fresh.

Of course, there are the playoffs, should they make it. I'd like to believe that Joba, assuming all else is the same, is the #3 starter in any playoff rotation. Does it make sense to remove Joba from the starting rotation in September, only to toss him back in it in October? Or just cap his innings on a game-by-game basis, stopping at 6 innings?

How do you handle these two young guns? I don't have the answers. But I keep looking for them.
Do you let them throw as long as they are healthy and effective? Or do you continue to baby the hell out of them, ever fearing the worst? Do you have to develop a way to separate "easy innings" from "high stress" innings. Are "easy innings" innings in which the pitcher gets out in under 12 pitches? Are "high stress" innings those that require greater than 18 pitches? After all, all innings are not created equal.

I've listened to/read Goose Gossage, Jim Kaat and Tommy John recently, discussing how they believe pitchers need to train to go longer in games. The old "you don't train to run a marathon by running 2 miles" analogy. I had been a big believer in the protecting of arms at all costs, but I have come around to more of the old school approach. Over-protecting an arm is fine if you think that arm belongs to a motion that is flawed. But if the pitcher has good fundamentals and approach, I think the pitchers need to learn to extend, reach for that extra inning. Stop looking towards the dugout once he gets close to 100 pitches.

Small guys like Lincecum and Oswalt each tossed 2 hit complete games last night. Lincecum has gone the distance in 3 of his last 4 games. He's conditioned himself to do that. Halladay, too. Lincecum's highest pitch count in any one inning was "just" 13 pitches. He finished the game in under 100 pitches. No walks, 8 K's. Efficiency.

I'd like to see Joba and Hughes eventually get to that.


Ron Rollins said...

I think one thing they miss on all of this is what type of pitches do they throw?

Carlton had his slider.
Blyleven had his curver.
Spahn had his screwball.

I believe all the rest of the guys who used to throw lots of innings were power guys. I might be wrong on that, but it would be worth looking into.

Everyone knows that breaking pitches put more of a strain on the elbow and shoulder than do non-breaking pitches.

Anyone know of any studies relating innings to type of pitch thrown?

Matt said...

Nice work Jason. Injuries to Hughes, Joba, and to a lesser extent Kennedy prevented this from becoming an issue last year. It'll be interesting to see how it play out this year.

Ron - I think you've touched on something important here. Sabrmetrics has already done an excellent job of evaluating batting and pitching statistics and is making great strides in fielding. Given all the the talk and varying opinions on pitcher devlopment this may be the next great frontier for statistical analysis.

Ber said...

It appears to me that Lincecum and the others are not being "babied" any less than Hughes and Joba, but rather that they are more efficient.
You pointed out yourself that Lincecum threw less than 100 pitches for the complete game.
He hasn't conditioned himself to throw more pitches, but rather to throw more strikes and thereby throw less pitches per inning. He didn't throw more than 110 pitches in any one of his last 5 starts.

Ron Rollins said...


Thanks. It was just a 'flash of insight' moment, but I think it is a good question.

I'm not going to pretend like I'm the first guy who thought of it, so hopefully there is some kind of study in the works/completed on this.

It might not be the most definitive test, but I'll bet there are some decent correlations between pitches thrown percentaages and innings compared to the injuries suffered.

Glen L said...

And how are the yanks going to get Hughes to 150IP this year? Assuming Andy isn't back next year, the rotations will be CC, Burnett, Wang, Joba, and ... Hughes .. who needs to get enough innings this year to actually be a viable starter. To date, he has a whopping ~46-47IP ... I agree this is in the best interest of the team RIGHT NOW, but next year and the years thereafter? probably not so much. Call up Melancon, send down Hughes to start